Tuesday, December 13, 2016

An Intentional Daily Schedule: Part 2 - Morning Meeting

I'm back with the second post in the series about my kindergarten daily schedule. Not only have I had to be creative with how I squeeze in all of our learning, but I've also intentionally carved out time for some of my most favorite parts of our kindergarten day. In my previous post, you can read all about how I've set aside uninterrupted time for our play centers (the BEST part of our kindergarten day)! You can read that post HERE :)

Here is another look at our kindergarten day. Today I'll focus on what morning meeting looks like, how to differentiate and change it up, and ways to keep it exciting and engaging!



I base our morning meeting routine off of the outline in The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. This book is published by Responsive Classroom, and I use so many RC strategies in my class. You really should check it out if you haven't already. Trust me, it will change the way you do classroom management! You can check out the book HERE :)

Our routine usually goes like this:
  • Greeting
  • Song or Game
  • Share Time
  • Group Activity


My students have two simple rules for greeting their friends: Look at them when you speak and use their name. We work very hard on conversational skills in kindergarten, and this part of our day reinforces those skills. Our greeting is constantly varied! We say "Good morning!" but in many languages, we shake hands, we high five...well here is a list below!


If you want more details about any of these greetings, leave your questions in a comment and I'll try to explain the best way I can! These greetings are a great way to make sure EVERY student in your class feels welcomed into your classroom each day. 



Now this part is pretty self-explanatory, but we LOVE singing and usually sing instead of play a game! We start off the school year with lots of finger-plays and preschool songs. Dr. Jean has a great playlist of songs HERE that are perfect for morning meeting! Anything with movement or hand motions are great for this time of day. You can also take a look at my Pinterest board called 'Morning Meeting' to see some other great song ideas.  


This is such a crucial part of morning meeting in kindergarten! Giving each child a chance to have their voice heard is so important. This time also allows for students to hear common interests and learn more about each other. I begin share time by asking my students a question. It can be a question about ANYTHING. I begin the year by asking lots of "What's your favorite ___?" questions. This really allows for students to hear what they have in common! We also do thematic questions like, "On Halloween, I want to dress up like ___." or "I am thankful for ___." 

One of the great academic pros of doing share time is building in academic language instruction. I always verbally give my students a sentence stem that they have to use to respond. For example, if they are answering the question "What do you want for Christmas this year?" my students would have to say "For Christmas this year, I want ___." This gives each student a chance to respond without feeling worried about how.

We also pass around a wireless microphone and our stuffed dog, Gus. He is our talking stick! Whoever is holding Gus gets to speak, but no one else! My students also make "quiet connections" if their friend shares something they agree with or also think. They just link their fingers together and hold them in the air!


I probably could have called this part of our routine "GoNoodle Time." We typically end our morning meeting with a KooKoo Kangaroo video because who doesn't like to start their day by dancing and laughing?! You can also incorporate any team building activity into this time, too. In our school, we use the OLWEUS Bullying Prevention Program, so this would be a great time to stand and chant our 4 Anti-Bullying rules. You could chant your class rules, too! 

Thanks so much for reading! Sorry there aren't a lot of pictures for this post, but there isn't much to take a picture of during morning meeting! I will try to do a more permanent video to include on my Instagram so you can see morning meeting in action. I hope you already incorporate morning meeting into your day somehow. Even if it may seem tempting to cut it out due to time constraints, I promise it is worth it!



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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

An Intentional Daily Schedule: Part 1 - Play Centers



I have had to be creative with my scheduling over the past few years. Our kindergarten day is two hours shorter than the day I taught at my previous school. I knew there were things that would have to be sacrificed, but there are a few things that I knew I would never give up no matter how I had to squeeze them in! Below you will see our daily schedule. You will see that our day is packed full! I will continue this series in the next few weeks to share how we structure each part of our kindergarten day.

Aside from the required reading, math, writing, and specials blocks, I knew that our schedule had to incorporate time for my teaching passions (the hills that I will die on as my previous principal used to say). The first of these is our PLAY CENTERS.


As you will see above, our daily schedule includes 15 minutes of structured, planned, and intentional play EVERY DAY. This is the one part of our day that I will never give up! It can get loud, messy, and sometimes go beyond 15 minutes, but it is worth it! We know why play is important: children are social learners, they need time to practice social skills, they need to get their energy out, it gives them a creative outlet....

But I love play in the classroom probably for this reason the most: Structured play time gives all students - no matter their reading proficiency, math skills, or writing ability, no matter their native language, no matter their home life - a chance to connect to one another.

The conversations I overhear during playtime have revealed to me more about my students than I ever would have found out during typical classroom interaction. I have heard my students laugh, sing, pretend, argue, and disagree. I've watched wallflowers who never speak up create the most amazing structures in the block area, the student who has no English language proficiency laugh with his friends at the water table, and the most hyperactive of boys sit down and paint a beautiful picture of his family.

And for all the small instances I see it, the kids see it even more! They start to learn how to communicate and connect. They see common interests or find out hidden talents. Even if they never play together on the playground, I see students laughing and pretending together in dramatic play. Play unites children. It unites us as a whole classroom community. And I absolutely think it is important. There is always time for play!

Below you will see the 7 play centers that we use in our classroom. I've included some things below each picture that you could include in the center for your students. I rotate what is in each of my centers about 2-3 times per year, that's it! I love how my students get connected to the materials. They keep coming back to the same things and are able to adjust their plans and recreate amazing things!


  • Long Sterilite container found at a home improvement store
  • Bins underneath to store supplies that are rotated depending on what is in the table
  • Materials to put in the table for discovery: water and soap, dried pasta and beans, sand, potting soil and seeds, "moon dough" (recipe on my Pinterest board), cornmeal
  • Supplies for discovery: shovels, scoops, funnels, scrubbing brushes, small pots, children's gardening tools, small measuring cups

  • Play kitchen
  • Child-sized aprons
  • Various hats or other dress-up clothing
  • Empty food and beverage containers from home 
  • Plastic or ceramic plates, bowls, and cups
  • Plastic or metal forks and spoons
  • Kitchen utensils (spatula, tongs, etc.)
  • Small pots and pans (found mine at IKEA)

  • Anything that students could use to build (Wooden blocks, Legos, Duplos)
  • Random items that you would like to see students try to use to build with (shower curtain hoods, empty cans, yarn, binder clips, fabric - my students have created zip lines and tents on chairs from these materials!)
  • A big basket to store these items
  • Items are rotated in and out, not all out at once

  • 3-drawer Sterilite container for storage (one activity per drawer)
  • Anything that children would need to use their small motor movements to work with
  • Lacing buttons/cards, peg boards and rubber bands, gears, tweezers and beads, clothespins and dried pasta, various sizes of screws and nuts (More ideas on my Pinterest board)
  • Items are rotated in and out 3 at a time

  • 3-drawer Sterilite container for storage
  • Playdoh of any variation
  • Tools for cutting, rolling, squeezing
  • Stamps

  • Small containers for sorting (bowls, baskets, jars)
  • Any small items! This center is very broad. I have colored stones, rocks, seashells, marbles, and buttons.
  • Magnifying glasses

  • Construction paper of various sizes and colors
  • Crayons, markers, oil pastels, watercolors, tempera paint, colored pencils, paint brushes, scissors, glue, and any other art materials you like
I hope that you try some of these centers in your classroom. I promise you will immediately see the benefits! And if you are worried about doing play centers first thing in the morning, let me say that I believe that letting students come in and socialize, play, and create first thing actually helps them get ready for the learning later on! They get the chance as soon as they come in, so my students are more focused and ready when we come down to the rug. 

Play with your students and see how much you love it, too!


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Monday, November 28, 2016

Words Their Way OUR Way! (FREEBIE)



When I was introduced to Words Their Way last school year, it was fast and furious and I did not implement it with fidelity. It sounded GREAT when our literacy coach presented it to us at a staff meeting and I couldn't wait to try it out. Unfortunately, we never really got more training than that, and I tried to piece together what I could. Long story short, I did not like Words Their Way by the end of last year. Lots of cutting and not a lot of growth. Boo.

Until now! I have a new teammate this year, and we sat down during a PLC meeting to try to figure out just how to make this program work for us. She had never heard of WTW before, which actually was a positive because it forced me to do more research myself! Once I was able to fully explain my version of WTW to her (because what's that saying, you know you understand when you can teach it to someone else?), we started working on the actual implementation. And this is why our 30 minute PLC time turned into 2 hours...

But I think we finally came up with a great solution! We each have about 40 minutes of phonics/word study time in our classrooms. This is also our intervention time when some students with services get pulled a couple of times a week. We knew we could not have any new instruction during this time because those students would miss our Tier 1 instruction (we follow the RTI model in our school). So this is how we scheduled our time (Click on the schedule to download a copy):


This schedule has allowed me to be able to check in with each of my four groups every single day. I like that I am still able to do a minilesson with everyone, but depending on what sort they are on, the minilesson will differ. This has also allowed me to be able to see exactly what letters/sounds/words students are having trouble with. Since we stick with the same sort for four days in a row, my students are able to get plenty of time to work with a skill and I get plenty of time to provide support for particular skills.

Our group makeup looks like this:


The groups are differentiated based on their skill level. They do different sorts that focus on different letters, sounds, or words. What would normally seem to be daunting is much easier since I have scheduled myself to rotate around and deliver the quick minilessons for each group. While I am with a group, the rest of the students are actively engaged in their own activity.

On Day 4 of our Word Study schedule, I have felt that there was something missing beyond what is provided in the workbooks for writing and illustrating to apply the sort. I created a sentence-making activity for students to complete that will ask them to read the words on their own. This is much more challenging for some students, so I made sure to create two sentences for each sort in the Letter Naming book (one easier than the other). It includes sentences for Letter Naming sorts 1-26. Check back for another set for more sorts!


You can also click below to grab a FREEBIE to try it out for yourself! I hope you find these extensions useful for your students!




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Sunday, November 27, 2016

How to SUCCESSFULLY Add Word Problems into Your Math Routine!


Incorporating word problems into my kindergarten math routine was a little intimidating at first. I had tried it so many ways in the past, but it almost always ended up with me in the front of the room, all of my students following along to steps that I told them, all working on the same problem. Even with a part-time aide, I never felt like I was able to differentiate for word problems because there just weren't enough adults to check in with that many different problems! So, I ended up not doing word problems for a long time. Bad, I know!

Then I learned about problems with number sets and it changed everything! Providing the same problem but differentiating the numbers that the students work with meant that I was finally able to differentiate while also teaching the same skill to everyone. And with some modeling up front, I would finally be able to walk around and check in with MULTIPLE students during word problem time! My aide was able to sit with a few who needed more explicit modeling.

Here is how it all plays out:


While modeling, I choose one of the number sets given. This also helps build confidence of any mathematicians who need to see it modeled more explicitly. I also use one of the math toolboxes that the students will use. Check out this Instagram post to read more about our math toolboxes!

Then I make my way around the room to check in. I like to spend a minute or two at each table to make sure my students are able to work independently. This also allows me to give support or extensions to certain students.

She is counting out cubes from her math toolbox in the amount that she chose from her number set.
Now that she's solved the word problem with manipulatives, she will draw a picture to match.
Once my students finish, they have to be checked by a teacher. I simply walk around, eyeball their work, and put a check in the corner of their notebook. I will choose 2-3 students during this time to go up front and share their work on the big screen. I will either choose 3 students who chose 3 different number sets OR will purposefully choose someone who was making a common mistake. We will walk through the error together. Showing mistakes is one of the most powerful share strategies. As long as you've established a culture where students feel safe making mistakes, it can be very powerful.

I hope this has encouraged a few of you to start doing word problems in your kindergarten classrooms. This can of course be used for all grade levels by changing the structure of the problem or the problem type!

I've created a set of editable word problems for joining and separating, so if you don't want to come up with all of them on your own, check these out! Just change the names and you're done! Comes with instructions for how to print them on labels :) Click the picture below!





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Monday, November 7, 2016

USA Day! Teaching About the Election and Voting in Kindergarten



Today in kindergarten we celebrated yet another unit of study with a themed day of learning fun! We are in the middle of our social studies unit about the election, voting, and presidents. It has been so interesting to hear kindergarteners talk about our current 2016 election. Oh the things they say! So, let's get into how we spent our day:



We have been using this wonderful emergent reader from Greg at Kindergarten Smorgasboard for the past week. It's been great for practicing pointing to each word as we read and recognizing sight words. We counted how many words there are on each page before we read, then circled 'the' on each page. Find this great freebie HERE.


During our whole group reading lesson, we read Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio. Oh my goodness, this book made me tear up. I hadn't read it beforehand like I usually do, and with the historical relevance of the current election I almost couldn't keep it together. It is an AWESOME book.

Then we talked about what makes a good president using a page from Gladys at Teaching in High Heels's WONDERFUL election unit! Find it HERE. Look at the words that my kids came up with! I helped them sound it out, but hopefully you can read it. Nice, worthy, patient, and welcoming. My heart almost exploded.


Finally it was time to get into our voting booth and cast our ballots! But we didn't worry ourselves with electing the next President of the United States...


We voted on our next class compliment party treat! First we wrote "cookies" and "brownies" on the lines on the ballot, then we did our research on the candidates AKA we stuffed our faces. Then one at a time they entered the voting booth, marked their favorite, and cast their vote!


Of course they got a 'vote' sticker once they voted. These were larger in Gladys's set, but I shrunk them down and printed them on full-sheet Avery labels. They were so proud to show their parents when they left school!

We had so much fun today learning about elections and voting in kid-friendly ways. Although this election has some heavy undertones, the sweetness of hearing their sweet ideas and opinions makes it all better. I'm so glad I get to spend my days with such innocent, joyful, and kind-hearted people. I hope you have enjoyed learning about the election with your class!

Oh and by the way, brownies won :)



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Monday, October 31, 2016

Pumpkin Day in Kindergarten!


Yesterday was such a fun day in our kindergarten classroom. In celebration of our fall science unit, we devoted an entire day to the study of pumpkins. We thoroughly enjoyed apple day in September so I knew my students would love pumpkin day, too! Instead of doing our normal math or workshop blocks, we did lots of pumpkin-themed activities.


I love doing this activity whole group with my class. I've made the mistake in the past of buying too many pumpkins to do this with, so we could never finish counting all the seeds!


For our float or sink experiment, all of the students made a prediction first. Then we plopped the pumpkin into a medium-sized tub filled with water. Spoiler alert: it floats!


Since we haven't started officially learning about measurement or estimating, their guesses of how many cubes tall our pumpkin was were hilarious. We got anywhere from 3 to 100. This was actually a great lesson on how to line up the tool to the ends of what you are measuring. We had to remember to include the stem!


Maybe one of my favorite parts of pumpkin math was comparing the weight of the pumpkin to something else. Each student held the pumpkin and told what they thought it was as heavy as. Car, cow, little brother, table...we finally settled on our pumpkin being as heavy as the teacher chair! This may or may not have resulted in Ms. Hodges showing off her muscles and holding each up in the air with one hand...


Then came the cutting and scooping! I was SHOCKED at how many of my students this year have never seen the inside of a pumpkin. One word was repeated over and over: GROSS! But surprisingly enough most of them jumped right into the scoop I gave them to start counting the seeds. Easiest tip ever: Use an ice cream scoop, scoop out some of the pumpkin guts, then plop it down between two students. Have them partner up to count the seeds!


Once we started counting, I realized that we needed some organization. What better time than to introduce ten frames! They used them well! Then we (I) counted all of the ten frames and leftovers. We ended up having 459 seeds (minus the few left in the pumpkin that I didn't scoop out, shh!).



And finally, we made our pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern! I let a few students come up and draw the face, then I cut it out. They were enthralled. I don't think an earthquake could have distracted them from watching me carve!



Later in the day, we read It's Pumpkin Time! by Zoe Hall. It's such a cute story about a brother and sister who plant a pumpkin patch. It was a great way to review the pumpkin life cycle. Then we showed what we know with this great activity by Ashley at One Sharp Bunch! She has an awesome, FREE bundle that you can check out by clicking here!


To finish our day, we enjoyed making pumpkin pie in a cup! We had been reading all about pumpkins for two weeks and have been talking about how delicious pumpkin pie might be but were disappointed that we didn't have an oven in our classroom. This delicious treat was the perfect solution!



Here's how to make it:


I hope pumpkin day in your classroom is as much fun as ours was! Enjoy!


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